Tag Archive

holman prize for blind ambition

Meet Conchita Hernández, teaching blindness across the border with the Holman Prize

Holman Prize Logo

Since 2017, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has presented the Holman Prize, which funds the ambitions of three blind individuals each year. One of the 2018 prizewinners is Conchita Hernández, from Washington, D.C., USA. Conchita will convene the first-ever blind-led conference in Mexico devoted to bringing masses ofblind people, their families and mentors together in Guadalajara to understand there is an alternative to the traditional expectation of dependence and poverty.

Last year Conchita Hernández hosted a blindness workshop in the border town of McAllen, Texas. She wasn’t sure how many people would show up. McAllen sits on the US border with Mexico, a city surrounded on all sides by government checkpoints – a civic purgatory for undocumented immigrants who can’t move back or forward. It wasn’t clear how many blind students there were in McAllen, but, when a quality service is offered, word spreads. Sixteen families showed up, each united by the same pursuits: healthier options, better information, and a better life for their blind children.

Life is not perfect for blind children in South Texas, and many blind children still do not qualify for services in the American system because of their immigration status. The prospects in Mexico, however, are worse. Blindness alone is not a qualifier for asylum, and so many families with blind children attempt to cross the border on their own. One case, in Nogales, AZ in April, saw a blind 6-year-old and her 4-year-old brother taken from their mother while she was held indefinitely.

Herself a child of immigrant parents who brought her to America at age 4, along with an older brother who is also legally blind, Conchita didn’t live the same struggle as if she had stayed in her birthplace, the Mexico City exurb of Jocotitlán. Instead, she was raised in California, learned English, made friends, went to college. By age 30, she had lived in the Bay Area, New Jersey, Nebraska, Louisiana, and ultimately settled in Washington, D.C. to pursue a doctorate and a career as an educator.

This might not have been possible had she stayed in Mexico, a country where blind people are vastly unemployed and rarely live independently. Here, blind people mostly sell government-apportioned lottery tickets and snacks on street corners and metro stations, and no education is promised. Schools for blind students are private, meaning they cost a lot of money. When they can’t afford tuition, Conchita says, families must beg public schools to accept their visually impaired children, and it doesn’t always work. “There is no ADA or IDA,” she said over the phone from DC last week. “So, a public school can just tell them, no, we don’t know how to serve you.” Despite the fact that Mexico has recently adopted some new rules and regulations regarding disability, they are little regarded or enforced.

This is why Conchita started Mentoring Engaging and Teaching All Students (METAS), a US-based nonprofit run by similarly passionate, blind, first-generation millenials who have made it their mission to empower Latin America with consistent, quality information about blindness. In multiple trips to the country, Conchita found that word spreads quickly – once families realize there are solutions they can afford. That’s the same reason that, last year when they started holding workshops on the Texas side of the border, people really showed up.

The Holman Prize will fund Conchita to take these workshops to the next level – this time, in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, a region with 8 million people and an estimated 40,000 blind residents, where she knows the people and the immense need. A center for blindness schools, Jalisco State has been called the Mexican Silicon Valley. With funding to provide staffing, lodging and scholarships, the “Changing Lives” conference (Cambiando Vidas) will be able to serve Mexican families from all over the country. “We’ll be bringing the people from Mexico together to have them access the resources and information that already exist but are unknown,” she says. “We’re going to have workshops on O&M, braille and daily living, so that they can come together in one place, learn and realize they’re not alone.”

“There really hasn’t been a blindness-focused conference run by blind people,” she says. “What’s different about this conference is that it won’t just be professionals talking at people. We’ll be having breakout sessions, as well as providing training. We’re also going to have an exhibitor hall, where people can find out about resources that are available to them in their areas.”

In a place where blind people are openly considered to be a burden, the idea behind Cambiando Vidas strikes at a deeper insight: you can have the best education in the world, but if your family doesn’t believe in your capability, you are at a great disadvantage. For this reason, it’s equally important to educate parents and relatives about what their blind children can achieve. “We can teach skills, we can teach you to use a cane,” she says, “but if we don’t teach them empowerment, it doesn’t mean much.”

For her Holman Prize project, Conchita plans to bring Cambiando Vidas to Guadalajara in July 2019. “The goal is that this will serve as the beginning of people coming together and advocating for themselves and advocating through the government as well,” she says. “We want better education for our children. In the short term, it’s just about them being able to find resources amongst each other so that what is possible for a blind person can shift, and so that the people who are begging can find something else.”

Video: Watch Conchita Hernández talk about “coming out” as blind, for Allure.

Cambiando Vidas is just a small piece of Conchita’s much greater ambition, but it’s a project where the Holman Prize will go a long way. On this, Conchita is clear: “I don’t think people should have to cross the border to access these services, but more importantly I don’t think that they should have to cross the border to lead a dignified life. Wherever you’re born you should have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

“The LightHouse believes that all blind people, whatever their nation of origin, should have access to modern thinking and tools to enable them to live in an accomplished manner,” says Bryan Bashin, CEO of the San Francisco-based organization. “Our struggles and accomplishments are the same in whatever country we live, and it gives the LightHouse great pleasure to help bring these options to blind people around the world.”

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Stacy Cervenka and Red Szell.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2019 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

Announcing the 2018 Holman Prizewinners

Photo trio, from left to right: Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka, and Conchita Hernández
Photo trio of the 2018 Holman Prizewinners, from left to right: Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka, and Conchita Hernández.

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s three Holman Prize recipients will use their $25,000 awards to promote blind empowerment in Mexico, complete a dramatic oceanic triathlon, and develop the first online community for blind travel.

This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures they never imagined possible as the 2018 winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.

The three winners, Stacy Cervenka, Conchita Hernández and Red Szell, were announced Tuesday, July 10, after a rigorous judging process. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners on a mentally and physically daunting journey or allows them to build and foster something positive in their community.

Created to change perceptions and reclaim the concept of “blind ambition”, the annual $25,000 Holman Prize awards presented by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco will springboard future generations of blind entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors.

Now in its second year, the Holman Prize is named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) the Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue the Holman Prize for a second year,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “These three new prizewinners represent a wide range of ambitions and life experience: from tackling social obstacles to to huge tests of physical and mental fortitude, they reflect the diversity and capability of blind people everywhere.”

Last year’s prizewinners, are each in the final stages of their 2017 Holman Prize projects. One of the three, Ahmet Ustunel, will finish his project on July 22 when he navigates his kayak independently across the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey without any human guidance. Read more about the blind kayaker [Red Bull]the blind baker [Virginian-Pilot], and the blind beekeeper [BBC].


Meet the 2018 Winners

Stacy Cervenka


Stacy Cervenka’s project focuses on creating a modern-day tool that James Holman might have put to good use: it’s an accessible travel forum called the Blind Travelers Network geared specifically towards blind users, and shockingly, nothing like it exists. Think Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Cruise Critic – but designed for the empowerment of a population who wants one thing, more than anything else: information. As a “founder” of sorts, Stacy is creating a website from her own lived experience, drawing from her own adventures to know what works and what doesn’t for blind travelers.

Read Stacy’s story.

Conchita Hernández

Conchita Hernández’s focus comes from her own experience of immigrating to America from Mexico as a 4-year-old, a decision her parents made in hopes of affording better opportunities for their two blind children. She will use the Holman Prize to provide staffing, lodging and scholarships for her unprecedented “Changing Lives”(Cambiando Vidas) Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico in July 2019. Geared toward families, the conference will offer workshops on white cane travel, braille and daily living. In a place where blind people are openly considered to be a burden, Cambiando Vidas strikes at a deeper insight: you can have the best education in the world, but if your family doesn’t believe in you, you are at a great disadvantage.

Read Conchita’s story.

Red Szell

Red Szell’s project is an unprecedented physical feat. He plans to attempt an  “Extreme Triathlon” comprised of a 200-foot abseil followed by a swim through open ocean, a 10-mile ride through a notably hazardous bog-land, and a climb up a 213-foot ocean spire called Am Buachaille off the north coast of Scotland. But more than just a triathlon, Red has a plan to document the whole endeavor, working closely with action-sports adventure videographer Keith Partridge to turn the project into more than just a feat of strength, but a message to other blind people not to give up their passions because of a change in vision.

Read Red’s story.


Stacy, Conchita and Red were part of a competitive pool of applicants from every continent (except Antarctica). Applicants are required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a $25,000 budget, before submitting formal proposals. View all 14 Holman finalists’ video pitches. Applications for the 2019 Holman Prize will open in January 2019.

The three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2018 for a week-long orientation before starting their project year on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.

Read more about last year’s winners.

The Holman Prize is determined by a prestigious group of judges, almost all of whom are blind. The prize is a flagship  program of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, who will salute each winner in an annual gala now set for November 29 in San Francisco.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.


About the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition

Holman Prize LogoIn 2017, San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.

Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco

LightHouse LogoThe LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

Announcing the 2018 Holman Prize Finalists

Grid of photos of the 2018 Holman Prize Finalists

 

Last year, we started the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a set of annual awards of up to $25,000 each for legally blind individuals with big ideas. In our second year, we received video applications from all over the world – including nine more countries we hadn’t heard from last year – all fascinating and compelling in their own rite. The Holman Team narrowed the pool to 42 semifinalists, all of whom submitted detailed proposals mapping out their dream projects.

This week, we’re proud to announce our elite group of fourteen finalists, including a “People’s Choice” finalist who we honor for receiving the highest number of YouTube ‘likes’ for his ambitious idea. These finalists will all be in the running to make their ambitions a reality when our Holman Committee meets in San Francisco this June.

The fourteen finalists are as diverse and dynamic a group as you could imagine, including those who want to give back to their communities, those who seek to push the boundaries of science and tech, and those with infectious enthusiasm for a particular or unexpected craft.

Over the next month, we hope you’ll sound off on which Holman Prize candidate you want to see take their ambitions on the road. Feel free to tag Holman Prize on TwitterInstagram and head to the LightHouse’s Facebook page for more updates.

Meet our 2018 finalists below: 

Becky Andrews

Bountiful, Utah, USA
Becky, a marathon runner and cyclist, would use the Holman Prize to implement a series of empowerment retreats for blind and visually-impaired women.

Zeljko Bajic

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Zeljko, a radio producer and host, would use the Holman Prize to create a podcast “for and about blind people living all over the world.”

Luanne Burke

Boulder, Colorado, USA

Luanne, a seasoned long-distance runner, would use the Holman Prize to educate visually-impaired communities around the world about the joys and logistics of guided running.

Stacy Cervenka

Sacramento, California, USA

Stacy, who works in the disability employment field, would use the Holman Prize to launch an accessible travel forum similar to Yelp or TripAdvisor, geared specifically towards helping blind users optimize their trips around the world.

Leona Godin

Castle Rock, Colorado, USA

Leona, an actor and writer, would use the Holman Prize to expand her magazine “Aromatica Poetica,” which is “dedicated to the arts and sciences” of smell. Furthermore, she would use the prize money to fund her own prize, geared in part towards visually-impaired writers.

Carol Green

Kirtland, New Mexico, USA

Having recently developed a braille code for the Navajo language, Carol would use the Holman Prize to launch a summer program to educate and share the code across the Navajo Nation. Her proposal also includes tactile interpretation of landscapes and critical features of the nation’s geography.

Andrew Hasley

Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Andrew, a biologist and geneticist, would use the Holman Prize to facilitate a conference for blind scientists and students from across the globe, called “Sciencing While Blind,” where participants could network and exchange tips and tools.

Conchita Hernandez

Washington, DC, USA

Conchita, who is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Special Education, would use the Holman Prize to create a workshop in her native Mexico for professionals in the blindness field, and blind people of all ages.

Georgina Hollinshead

Matlock, Derbyshire, UK

Georgina, who says she was “born a crafter,” would use the Holman Prize to launch a social enterprise called Hook and Eye Crafts, geared toward teaching blind and visually impaired people the joys of knitting, crochet and cross-stitch.

Alieu Jaiteh

Banjul, Serrekunda, Gambia

Alieu, the founder of the blindness advocacy organization Start Now, would use the Holman Prize to provide various skills, including computer literacy, cane travel and Braille, to blind and low-vision participants in rural Gambia.

Sandeep Kumar

*People’s Choice Finalist*

Hyderabad, Telangana, India

Sandeep, who has developed a tool called Eye Renk, which allows the visually impaired to easily differentiate between various ocular medications, would use the Holman Prize to build a lab for further development of Eye Rank and other technologies for the visually impaired.

Ambrose Kiplangat Lasoy

Rift Valley Province, Kenya

Kiplangat would use the Holman Prize to develop a program to enable his fellow blind and low-vision Kenyans to become dairy farmers and entrepreneurs.

Aishwarya T.V.

Secunderabad, Telangana, India

Aishwarya, a filmmaker and rehabilitation counselor, would use the Holman Prize to create a training center for the blind and low-vision community to study elements of filmmaking like script writing, film editing, sound mixing, production and more.

Red Szell

London, UK

Red, an extreme sports enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to undertake an extreme sports triathlon to conquer Am Buachaille, one of the most remote rock pinnacles at the Northwest tip of the United Kingdom.

Learn more about the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition at www.holmanprize.org.

Meet the blind judges who will select the 2018 Holman Prizewinners

In its second year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition received almost one hundred applications from 19 countries and 22 American states. The semifinalists’ proposed projects are extraordinary – including bringing beep baseball to Argentina, creating the world’s first tactile Escape Room, launching a magazine dedicated to the art and science of smell and empowering people who are blind in rural Gambia. It won’t be an easy task to choose he three 2018 prizewinners from such a strong and diverse group.

The Holman Team is in the process of selecting finalists for the judging committee to select from, but in the meantime, we invite you to peruse the whole group of semifinalists’ Holman Prize submission videos to experience the diversity of people and proposals in the field.

In just a few weeks, we’ll welcome our judges in San Francisco to review the finalists’ proposals and select the 2018 Holman prizewinners. Learn more about the judges below and stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement of our elite group of Holman Prize Finalists.

Bryan Bashin Headshot

Bryan Bashin, CEO at the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco since 2010.

Don Brown Headshot

Don Brown, CEO of Access Work Systems, a HR compliance Management consulting firm, which he founded in 2000.

Dr. Wendy David headshot

Dr. Wendy David, licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Seattle and published author of books including, “Sites Unseen: Traveling the World without Sight.”

Chancey Fleet Headshot

Chancey Fleet, assistive technology coordinator at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library at New York Public Library.

Aerial Gilbert headshot

Aerial Gilbert, former outreach manager for Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael. She is also an avid rower and has competed in the adaptive division of the World Rowing Championships.

Rosa Gomez, assistant deputy director of the Specialized Services Division of the California State Department of Rehabilitation.

Anil Lewis headshot

Anil Lewis, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, MD.

Dr. Brian Miller Headshot

Dr. Brian Miller, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in Washington D.C.

Dr. Sile O'Modhrain Headshot

Dr. Sile O’Modhrain, professor in performing arts technology at the school of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan.

Jason Roberts Headshot

Jason Roberts, an accomplished author, Roberts’ wrote “A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler,” about the intrepid blind traveler (and namesake of this prize) James Holman.

Dr. Sharon Sacks headshot

Dr. Sharon Sacks, former superintendent of the California School for the Blind. Sacks recently retired.

Victor Tsaran headshot

Victor Tsaran, technical program manager at Google, helping to make Android accessible for all.

Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen

Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen, associate professor in the Department of English at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Gary Wunder Headshot

Gary Wunder, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri and the editor of the Braille Monitor.